The Revue Folies Bergere
The first spectacular and sumptuous stage show produced by Clifford Fischer for the French Casino project in Chicago and New York in 1934 was the Revue Folies Bergere.
The show was first presented in June 1934 at the French Casino, Chicago – the new name for the revamped Rainbo Gardens – and ran for several months before being transferred as the opening show at the French Casino, New York – the revamped Earl Carroll Theatre – at the end of December 1934. Thereafter, it may have been staged in London. Although the basic format of the production stayed the same particularly with the big spectacular numbers, some changes were made to the speciality acts throughout the run.
Produced under the supervision of Clifford Fischer, it was staged by Jacques Charles (described for an American audience as the Ziegfeld of the French revues), dances were by Madame Komarova, scenery by Pellegry and costumes by Gaston Zanel. For Chicago, the music was provided by the two orchestra of Noble Sissle and Carl Hoff and in New York by the orchestras of Carl Hoff, Don Marton and Jean Drena.
Divided into two halves it was an elaborately costumed program of one and a half hours of singing, dancing and variety numbers each characteristic of the first class music halls of Paris along with a forty-five minute interval for public dancing. There was a troupe of over one hundred performers comprising a dozen or so prinicipals and speciality acts, a chorus, can-can dancers, the Kamarova ballet dancers and mannequins.
Well known for his bizarre personality, Emil Boreo was the conferencier or MOC with his own speciality numbers. He was French and was described as a world famous comedian, singer and impersonator and had been one of the stars of Nikita Balieff’s Chauve Souris in the 1920s.
Part one comprised thirteen scenes. The proceedings started with an overture (no.1) from Carl Hoff and his orchestra, with a greeting from Emile Boreo (no.2). The first big tableau was Ca C’est Paris (no.3) with an introduction to the city of Paris that was shown as a map on a backdrop showing the different sections. Through an opening in the map appear a guide, then a manneqiun representing the city of Paris, followed by further beautiful mannequins in striking and unusual costumes depicted the sites of Paris that included the Eiffel Tower, the Moulin Rouge, the Folies Bergere, Montparnasse, La Villete, the Bastille, the Etoile, Montmartre, and Tulleries Garden.
Mlle Karene (no.4) was a speciality act described as a jockey toe dance, followed by the second big tableau called Rue de La Paix (no.5) with Les Trottins, Nina Chatalova and the ballet Komarova. Rue de la Paix in Paris was known as the avenue of the smartest dressmakers and milliners. The girls who work there were called Midinettes or Trottins, which comes from the word trot as they always walk with fast short steps. The members of the ballet appear in Trottin costume with their accompanying hat boxes and perform a toe dance.
Les Frivolites (no.6) was another big pageant illustrating articles of woman’s apparel as designed by the French couturier Jean Patou. The shops of Paris sell things dear to the heart of women and on the large revolving stage appeared mannequins dressed in lavish gowns representing all of these frivolities including such things as mascara, powder puff, lipstick, train, jewels, veil, bag, fan, parasol, red glove, muff, lace, black fur, necklace, jewel box and white fur.
Une Autre Frivolity (no.7) featured the dancing of Mlle Marie Desty with Delso and Juan in a tango. Les Manginis (no.8) were two proverbial ‘god-like’ muscle-men acrobats demonstrate amazing feats of strength and skill in a thrilling acrobatic exhibition. They were variously likened to twin Sandows or Grecian atheletes who beside their gymnastic hand to hands were ‘very Barrymore on profile.’
La Fete a Montmartre (no.9) illustrated the famous fair in Montmartre showing firstly little Parisiennes riding toy pigs on the merry go round and then can can girls appear in which Olympe Bradna stands out with her ballet taps. A La Villette (no.10) was an Apache dance with Katja, Freddy Roberts and the Ballet Komarova. La Vilette, the Apache quarter in Paris is represented with an accordian player setting the scene with a singer, street walker and drunken sailor. Caveau Caucasien (no.11) introduced Hella Slavinska and the Komarova ballet with tricky and novel costumes, followed by another number with Emile Boreo (no.12).
Cabaret hell (no.13) from the Place Blanche is the finale. La Cabaret de L’Enfer is one of the more famous ‘tourist’ cabarets in Place Blanche, Montmartre. Harold and Lola did their famous sinuous snake, contortion dance in which Harold is the snake charmer and Loa the writing snake who finally breaks the spell of her master’s little pipe and destroys him. The Komarova ballet then appeared and in their midst emerged a peirrot (Roxanne) who flirts with the girls, they pounce on him and undress him to discover he is a girl and she is then consigned to the other damned women who take her away to hell.
Part two of the programme comprised eleven scenes. The opening number was the rather salacious and provocative La Nouvelle Mode – Les Grains de Beaute (no.14) or the new fashions – the beauty spots. During the 18th century a famous French lady hairdresser created a singular fad – placing a beauty spot on their bodies. In this novelty number beautiful mannequins parade beauty spots emphasizing the most distinguished features of the anatomy in the ballet parade.
Danse Sensuelle (no.15) featured the sensational ‘nude’ dancing of Jean and Jeanette as a satyr and a faun. She wore a skinny leopard skin and a smile. This was followed by Lolita Benavente (no.16), Spanish movie star and dancer fresh from Paris and then Desty, Delso and Juan (no.17) with another tango speciality.
The Day of a Parisian (no.18) was a tableau advertising the glamour of Jean Patou by showing the dresses and perfumes of Parisian women with all the mannequins in Patou dresses or mannequins dressed as Patou perfume. Olympe Bradna (no.19) as the Smallest sailor of France gave an amazing display of dancing and acrobatic artistry.
Montparnasse / the Apple Dance (no.20) was one of the most popular scenes featuring Maria Desty as Venus, Freddy Roberts as a faun and the Komarova ballet. The scene began with a group of foolish shepherdesses pursuing a shepherd. The scene is based on a famous painting ‘the judgement of Paris’ in which three goddess – Minerva, Juno and Venus – appear and ask Paris to chose the most beautiful goddess. He chose Venus and presents her with a large red apple. Venus (Maria Desty) dances with a large apple and simply caused a sensation.
Emile Boreo (no.21) followed with a speciality called Dark Eyes in several dialects and then Gloria Gilbert a whirlwind American steppeuse who came to attention at the Folies Bergere, Paris was featured in A L’Opera (no.22) a ballet of Chopin with the ballet Komarova. Gilbert spins like a top and was credited with making 400 – 500 spins in three minutes.The comic Lime Trio (no.23) were a novelty, three man contortive number. Two are baggage men and the trunk the carry contains a gollywog in black face mask who as the contortionist makes the act.
The finale was the spectacular La Fontaine de la Place de la Concorde (no.24) featuring Lolita Benavente with mannequins posed upon the famous pillars of the Place and the entire company.
The reviews and comment of the show in Chicago and New York were laudatory. Variety said that it had been the ‘wow of Chi life’ and added that is was ‘a gasp on artistry, talent, colour, flash, dash and daring. Nudity is as Frenchy as vintage champagne. But it is all done with taste in costumes – it is not blatant or offensive.’ The Chicago Tribune thought that the show blended ‘the style of a harlem floor show with French frivolity’ and The New York Times observed that it ‘sets a high water mark in elaborate, expensive and spectaculary varied cabaret entertainment in New York since the repeal of prohibition.The show has a dash and spontaneity running through it which the average night club revue captures hereabouts only infrequently and which the typical Parisian cabaret seldom achieves on so large a scale. It offers real and sensational artists – particularly among the dancers, parades a constant assortment of gorgeously robed girls and is handsomely set amidst delightful decorations.’
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent
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Chicago Tribune, New York Times and Variety